Imagine a film about the Tour de France shot by a member of the peloton. That unique insider perspective would change the way outsiders perceive elite bicycle racing.
A new documentary, "Unbreakable," uses an insider's point of view to get inside the nation's most prestigious 100-mile ultramarathon, the Western States Endurance Run.
What: "Unbreakable," a documentary filmed during the 2010 Western States Endurance Run
When: 6 and 8 tonight
Where: Meese Auditorium, Southern Oregon University, Ashland
Cost: $10; proceeds benefit Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association
More information: www.ws100film.com/filmmakers.html
Filmmaker JB Benna of Reno, Nev., and his crew followed the four top-seeded runners in the 2010 race, which proved to be the most anticipated and exciting running in that race's 35-year history.
"There haven't been a lot of feature-length films about our sport," says Benna, an accomplished ultramarathoner in his own right. "Another element that struck me was the undefeated nature of these four guys."
The four runners profiled in this film are Ashland's Hal Koerner, then the two-time defending Western States champion; Spain's Killian Jornet, undefeated in Europe; Geoff Roes of Juneau, Alaska, undefeated at the 100-mile distance and the previous year's top-ranked ultramarathoner; and Anton Krupicka, undefeated at any ultra distance.
Benna had run Western States the previous year and attempted to film himself en route. That experience gave him the seed ideas that sprouted into the longer film.
"There are a lot of other movies that show ultrarunners as crazy, just really wacky people, who are doing this insane thing," Benna explains. "Being part of this sport, I don't really see it as being that way. I see it as kind of an adventure, a goal and being passionate about it."
For spectators, ultramarathons are mainly about watching runners come into aid stations to refuel, says Hal Koerner, who owns Rogue Valley Runners store in Ashland.
"For the first time, you're really getting a look at a 100-mile race in between aid stations, on the trail, what runners are doing," says Koerner.
What the runners are doing is captured in real-time — in dizzying hand-held camera detail — complete with kamikaze descents into canyons and lung-searing power hikes out of canyon bottoms while enduring triple-digit temperatures, glissading and face-planting on snowbanks, and the agony of inescapable fatigue that accompanies the latter stages of the race.
"When things are going really well, you figure it's great to have the camera there to capture all your glorious moments and their exuberance," says Koerner. "When things aren't going so well, the camera just highlights it."
Benna and six others filmed the race. While the rest of the camera crew filmed the course around the aid stations, Benna ran the tougher parts of the course, miles at a stretch. He ran nearly 34 miles with his camera that day, an ultramarathon in itself.
"I was running pretty fast, carrying a 10-pound camera at 7-minute (per mile) pace down these rocky trails. It was really challenging," Benna recalls.
Through his pre-race interviews with the four favorites and filming them on the course, Benna learned a few things about the elite mindset.
"I saw pure love of running, trails, mountains; that's what drives them to get out there every day and train and do their best on a day-to-day basis," says Benna.
Though each competitor wanted desperately to win the race, what surprised Benna was the camaraderie he witnessed.
"These guys are running together for 70 or 80 (of the total) miles, competing, doing this thing together, striving together," says Benna. "It was interesting to watch, especially since some of these guys didn't even know each other until the start of the race."
The title, "Unbreakable," derives from what Benna likes to call the indispensable ingredient necessary to win the Western States race. Both body and mind must remain intact. In the latter stages of the race, when the body of every competitor screams with pain, the mind cannot indulge the urge to slow or stop, unless injury is imminent.
"Experience helps, knowing when enough is enough," says Koerner, who dropped out of the race at mile 80 when an old ankle injury resurfaced and forced him to the sidelines. "You want to get back out there eventually, you don't want to really hurt yourself."
"It's hard; your ego gets as battered and bruised as your body after something like that, from what is the biggest race in our sport."
As far as race-day drama goes, Benna picked the right year to film Western States.
The four profiled athletes changed leads several times during the race, with the winner surging to the lead near the 89-mile mark to finish with more than a six-minute margin of victory, smashing the previous course record by 29 minutes. If you want more details, you'll have to see the film.
The 1 hour, 45-minute film will be shown at 6 and 8 p.m. today in Ashland at Meese Auditorium at Southern Oregon University. Cost is $10, which includes a complimentary beer provided by Southern Oregon Brewery. Proceeds will benefit the Ashland Woodlands and Trails Association.
To learn more about the film or see the trailer, go online at www.ws100film.com/filmmakers.html
Daniel Newberry is a freelance writer living in the Applegate Valley. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org